High voice blues

Originally Published: January 15, 1999
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Dear Alice,

I am a twenty-eight-year-old male. I have an extremely high pitched voice that cracks when I have to raise my voice. When I speak loudly for extended periods of time, I lose my voice.

In my profession, I need to speak to large groups of people at one time who are, at times, 100 yards away.

Is there anything I can do about this, or can I somehow strengthen my voice?

It would be nice to call someone on the telephone and not be thought of as a woman before I give my name!

Dear Reader,

Here are some tips straight from a speech coach's mouth:

  • Use an amplification system (portable or in-house) that will allow you to speak in more conversational tones and still be heard 100 yards away.
  • Microphone, or not, raising your voice, or yelling, may work when scolding naughty housepets, but it's a sure way to raise the pitch and fatigue level on even the most experienced public speaker. Projection (described below) allows you to naturally amplify your voice without losing it.
  • Breathe from the bottom of your rib cage, not from your chest, shoulders, and throat. Rest your hands, palms in, on the sides of your body between your waist and rib cage. Yes, you look like a chicken, but you've now located the part of your person that should be moving in and out as you inhale and exhale. When you breathe in, push this area (your sides) into your hands. Your stomach and belly-button should remain pretty stationary, by the way. Many of us project by taking in air from our upper chests and north: this doesn't give us enough oxygen to healthily boost vocal volume -- kind of like trying to drive from New York to Chicago on a half tank of gas. When all is said and done, insufficient oxygen strains the vocal cords and leads to dry and sore throats.
  • Another breathing exercise here: slowly inhale while slowly counting to ten, then exhale while counting back down from ten to one. Your goal is to accomplish that count up and countdown without running out of breath -- or having too much leftover -- by the time you reach "ten" and "one." This is a good prep exercise for speaking, as you should also have just enough breath to carry your words.
  • If you tend to talk rapidly, try to slow down, and take some of those nice mid-body breaths we just practiced (chicken position not required).
  • Let your audience do some of the talking: throw some questions out to them so that your voice can take a break.
  • Sip on some water or tea to keep your throat and cords well-lubed.
  • Shorten your presentations and leave them wanting more.

Much of this advice can also be used with one-to-one dialogues -- say, over the telephone. They may produce that voice-deepening effect you desire. Of course, you could always identify yourself to the recipient of your call before s/he says boo: "Hi, this is Mr. Manny Testosterone calling for Lady Precious Powderpuff." It's too bad that any of us should feel somehow less worthy when we are based solely on how we think others perceive us, or perhaps, as in this case, how we react to their perceptions. Is it so bad to be mistaken for a different gender, profession, nationality, sexual orientation, religion, etc.? If the people we deal with do judge us negatively based on these attributes, are they worth our time... or our dime?

Alice's archived answer, Fear of public speaking, has other speaking strategies, or presentation power points, that can help boost one's voice... and confidence.

Alice